Silicon Valley Community Foundation - Innovation Conference

Day 3 Session Notes - October 11, 2016

// These are rough and partial notes. Please excuse shorthand and typos. 

The link between systemic inequality and technology - plenary

  • Often have barrier between local and global, tech changes that, more similarites than differences
  • Happy International Girls Day
  • UN helps women - helping with education, getting them away from bad men / situations, mobile money really helps, we facilitate access to IDs - this helps prevent trafficking and child marriage, all over Africa examples, we try to use technology to address multiple issues at once, in far-flung areas
  • We need disruptors to help us disrupt patriarchy. We don’t have enough of them.
  • Van Jones - joke about politics-free zone, when I was young the future was written in laws in Washington DC, if you’re young now the future is written in code in Silicon Valley
  • Senate subcommittee hearing versus a hackathon
  • Good - places to make change. Bad - we don’t have full representation at all. DC and UN are much more representative than Silicon Valley - it’s white male. So a lot of the problems getting addressed are underwhelming, like photo sharing apps
  • Dream Corps is a support center, “close prison doors, open doors of opportunity”, biggest opportunities - green jobs and tech - Yes We Code and helping get people jobs
  • You would think it’s easy from Oakland given it’s so close geographically, but it’s not
  • We have disadvantages in this community - 1) we weren’t the geeks! We were the humanitarian people. So there’s a gap 2) we are comfortably middle class, not necessarily in touch with communities’ needs on daily basis 3) the field for closing the gap is currently small, aversion to conversation
  • Q - what about tech ghettos, the concern of creating pathways with ceilings
  • UN - it’s important to get representation at top, otherwise you institutionalize mediocrity. People have to see “yes, I can do it.”
  • The tech gap for women is actually widening because of education. Another barrier are the stereotypes. If I was a philanthropist this is where I would invest. The stereotypes are everywhere - Wall Street, sugar cane fields, everywhere. So that you actually lift as you climb.
  • Van Jones - There’s a big conversation about diversity and inclusion in tech, but not enough action. We’re learned from two experiments at Yes We Code - 1) coding core found that even if CEO/HR/etc want diversity, that engineering team has big say in hiring - and they have a “culture fit” requirement often explicit, along with huge demands to move fast - this creates a hiring barrier. 2) culture clashes from black/women/Latina perspective - we tend to wait for perfection. We get frozen up. We also tend to wait for direction. This is a culture that expects neither.
  • Q - what does innovation mean for vast parts of rural America who fueled industrial revolutions but are still left behind?
  • UN - another photo app is gonna kill me too, we need people from these communities to be successful so they can serve these poorer areas of society
  • Empower Women - a platform for sharing ideas, used by 1 million people around the world - e.g. job interview tips, trading goods advice
  • Question - so why are we still getting more photo apps? Despite all the challenges. Is it because it’s not economic otherwise?
  • VJ - no, what’s happening is actually economically inefficient - we need diverse viewpoints, we run tech hackathons in poor neighborhoods and bring tech companies engineers in, their jaws drop - e.g. in Oakland an app for telling people when their court dates were, because that’s the unfortunately reality for so many. People in tech aren’t trying to serve all the people in the U.S. with criminal records, for example.
  • E.g. wearables tech challenge - how to charge earrings - woman point of view that jewelry goes in bowl at end of the day, those male engineers weren’t thinking about
  • Major oversights happen all the time from these tech companies
  • UN - and it doesn’t take that much money
  • VJ - outdated assumptions, focused on states and governments, foundations need to fund groups for all 4 of these concentrations of power: 1) government 2) tech sector 3) media - changing the narrative 4) finance - wall street has lots of power. Tech first and foremost right now, because it’s the biggest disruptor
  • UN - social media - ebola crisis, social media helped enable people to know what to do
  • Our team helped translate important messages during that time, routing them to mothers, social media helped
  • Many look at tech as nice to do, gap is widening
  • Tech is basic necessity for children to survive, once they have tech they can thrive
  • VJ - there are efforts happening, Yes We Code, Kapor Center, Black Girls Code 
  • We need to fail a bunch. Philanthropists are risk averse, expecting to be shown great numbers the first time, but that’s not how it works

Reflection by Foundation Presidents - plenary

  • Q - you have distinctive strategies, share as community, think local and global, focused on profound problems, try to do things at scale
  • Q for Ian - we’ve talked about “adaptive innovation”, you’ve been wrestling with indigenous issues and now getting worse with climate change
  • Ian - You can think about Canada’s indigenous peoples experience kind of like US beginning of civil rights movement. Just the beginning. Deep and profound. Now economic disruption, largely affected by the climate. The adaption is about ourselves. We need to change.
  • And those adaptations are actually indigenous. Holistic nature of life. Don’t separate nature and culture, tech from human, people aren’t taxpayers/consumers/etc. If we reclaim it, we’ll have a path forward
  • The indigenous have tech, for example, medicine wheel - reference to McConnell Foundation and Indigenous Fund
  • Q for Alberto - how have you responded to big changes at Knight Foundation?
  • Alberto - we need to change, the internal is what’s so difficult. With newspapers it wasn’t the tech, it was the mindset. First we had to admit we didn’t have a clue.
  • Q - how do you ensure biases aren’t in competition - how do you help ensure disadvantaged are part of it?
  • We set very simple rules - digital platforms - delivering news to communities
  • If you have a bunch of rules, you are looking for iterations on stuff you’ve already thought about
  • In 2nd/3rd year, you start saying “this is what we do” and it gets way too comfortable
  • Q for Julia - everyone is excited for your 100&Change - $100 million prize
  • Julia - I won’t presume everyone knows what it is - $100 million every 3 years, addressing profound problem, anywhere in world, any domain 
  • Definitions of innovation - we decided innovation wasn’t in “idea space” but “solution space,” the competition is testing things at scale, we received many more proposals than we expected
  • We hope to use this as platform where funders can come together and hear the top proposals and pick multiple to support
  • Question for Darren - “durable” - do we have the institutions we need to address the challenges before us? E.g. perpetuated discrimination by algorithms
  • Darren - I have a diagnosis about philanthropic institutions, especially the legacy organizations. We are woefully and inadequately staffed to understand all these issues - our boards/CEOs aren’t digital natives. Uncomfortable with tech, lacking depth of knowledge. So our ability to respond and stay ahead is hamstrung. We need to disrupt our own institutions.
  • We have new philanthropic groups, with optimism about solving big problems, and content - but they lack context, like the daily lives of people in Richmond
  • We don’t have market forces requiring us to change, those forces of change are too absent, so unless we recognize we may become less relevant to solving today’s challenges, we won’t change ourselves
  • Q - one criticism is that funds are invested in the past - e.g. big businesses - that’s an opportunity to change, but won’t ask you about it now.
  • Julia - we do have market pressures: relevance. If we don’t look at challenge of relevance, we’ll lose ability to influence. It’s a notion of trust, trust is declining in institutions everywhere, we have that same risk
  • Alberto - if you fail to stay relevant, people will ask more questions about the money in these foundations. Our foundations are infinitely more transparent than our predecessors. 
  • Talked about changing board
  • Darren - reality check, but that’s an aberration as most aren’t doing that. I agree relevance is an incentive. But if that means we have to fundamentally change how we see the world, I’m not sure we’ll stay relevant, these are legacy institutions. 
  • Change is really hard, especially when the incentives aren’t there or clear
  • Ian - there’s an edge here - and we need to hold that! Canadians have been debriefing at night at this conference, and we’re not feeling tooled up for these Silicon Valley technologies and we’re behind on diversity agenda. Back to indigenous, that is test of relevance.
  • Q - let’s talk about the structures that are familiar to us, e.g. shifting boards, but what about occupy and black lives matter - e.g. NAACP’s clash with BLM
  • Darren - starts with bringing staff with understanding - they bring networks - reset models - we brought together a roundtable of civil rights - old and new, e.g. color of change and NAACP
  • We have to recognize civil rights movement building is going to look different in the future - e.g. color of surveillance, Sweany research showing predatory practices happening in digital world
  • Q - how are you maintaining your edge?
  • Julia - specific demonstrable changes in number of metrics in communities - we had an epiphany
  • We were using intermediaries with those working on the ground in communities - but coattails got pulled as we developed skills in “how to manage intermediaries”
  • So we had basically an academic understanding of what was happening in Chicago.
  • We changed and realized that specific metrics weren’t as important as diverse leadership and community strength - rather than just specific outcomes.
  • Alberto - the issue is being sincerely open to change. We need to keep fostering cultural revolution, we need to hire younger, more diverse, in fields you want to affect.
  • Push and say “why not?” all the time, you need to keep the edge, it’s a constant struggle. In media, hardest thing is for editor to let go. In tech, letting go is easy, because we’re being forced. Look how we’ve ended up in this world where what we know is determined by algorithms at five companies, these programmers have values and those values show up in the program. So now, what about values in AI? 
  • And CRISPR - like algos that are discriminatory
  • Darren - we need more diversity in philanthropy - we are whiter, older - we solve this with more women, blacks, more - Alberto - all the things we tell our grantees
  • Tension with new crop of tech entrepreneurs?
  • Darren - these are radical organizations - what organizations will hold mirror to the new philanthropists? Often libertarian meritocratic values - do they appreciate that gender and diversity matters? But the thing is, our old models didn’t work, and when I look at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and see the real diversity in their org, I won’t throw rocks - we need to learn from them too
  • Q - what challenge takes your breath away, and how will you respond?
  • Ian - group of philanthropists out there, thinking about networks, building trust - if we create that connective tissue, we can achieve these changes we’re talking about
  • Alberto - Berners Lee said he never took out a patent on the World Wide Web because he thought it should be free and universal - biggest issue we have now is lack of authenticity - this is a Gutenberg moment
  • Julia - worried about pessimism. In addition to holding a mirror, we need to hold onto the optimism of philanthropy
  • Darren - “this is a seminal moment in the history of the world” - philanthropy has a role to play in solving these issues
  • Can we change in order to do what we need to, like when philanthropy is at its best?
  • Will require monumental commitment from our boards and leaders

Closing remarks by Dr Emmett Carson 

  • This was under the umbrella of the SVCF Learning Institute - we hope you learned
  • (Video clip of conference highlights)
  • We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference on the issues we care about
  • We’re late to the party, but I don’t think too late to make a difference - including those like me who are “digital dinosaurs” - if we’re willing to fail and take risks
  • We’re at the start of a journey we get to take together
  • Thank you’s